While US online poker has hit some setbacks, there are still some success stories. New Jersey poker player Ted Ely, 40, is one of them. He battled his way to the WSOP.com Player of the Year title for New Jersey in 2018.
I recently had a chance to interview Ely. The Union City, NJ resident said that 2018 represented a turning point in his game.
2018 was different for Ely almost from the beginning of the year
Ely didn’t initially set out to make 2018 a banner year. However, by May, he had already climbed nearly to the top of two sites’ Player of the Year standings.
Things changed at that point, because that marked the moment that New Jersey merged player pools with Nevada and Delaware. After a month’s delay in posting the leaderboard, WSOP.com published standings that told a different story, and changed Ely’s focus.
“When they reposted them, I was in first place,” he said. “It was only halfway through the year, but I was pretty geared up to try to win the $10,000 prize and ring.”
Despite his commitment, Ely’s position suffered due to his participation in last year’s WSOP in Las Vegas. His presence there took him away from the New Jersey tables and allowed one his closest rivals to surpass him.
Ely was undeterred.
“At that point, I decided to go balls to the wall to win,” he said. “I played six or seven days a week for the last several months of the year.”
That decision meant playing events that started late and were directed toward Pacific Standard Time players. He played every night and won several times.
These wins were key to his Player of the Year success. Other players in contention have full-time jobs, he said, and playing into the wee hours gave him a significant advantage.
Ely’s life is a portrait of the modern poker player
Ely, like many poker professionals, is a disciplined specialist. He distinguishes his game by alternating between online multi-table tournaments (MTTs) and live cash games.
“Although I play a decent amount of live cash poker when I can make it to a casino, I play MTTs exclusively online,” Ely said. “There is a limited player pool in New Jersey, and many of the regulars have full-time jobs, so the good tournaments are all in the evening.”
Ely’s daily routine involves sleeping late, working out, running errands and cooking dinner for his wife. Around 7 p.m., he hits the online tables.
Depending on the night and his energy level, he might register for tournaments until midnight. If he makes the final table of any tournament, his night can potentially stretch out to 3 a.m.
Ely is good on several sites
The late hours haven’t hurt his game, though. Ely has enjoyed a few memorable WSOP finishes, including a high finish at the Ultimate Warrior Tournament. He also placed second in that same tournament early in the year. Both events paid roughly $7,000.
He also placed second in the $500 Main Event of the New Jersey Poker Classic in February for $20,000. That win remains his biggest online score.
However, his success in 2018 wasn’t limited solely to WSOP.com. Ely has cashed for about $600,000 on three legal sites in New Jersey.
“(Though) I had, by far, the most total cashes and earnings on WSOP, my return on investment on PartyPoker was the highest,” Ely said.
To that end, Ely has won the $535 PartyPoker Tuesday Tournament twice. In December, he also won a $12,000 package to the WPT Bellagio Five Diamond after winning entry through a $45 qualifier.
Of course, that same day, Ely won the Sunday $500 on WSOP for $12,000. He then had to fly out to the Bellagio tournament the very next day.
Ely was born to be at the table
Ely’s evolution into top poker player seems almost preordained. After growing up in Bridgewater, NJ, Ely graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in psychology. He later earned an MBA from Fordham University.
For a time after college, he worked in corporate sales in the tech and biotech industries. However, since he finished graduate school, Ely has been fully immersed in poker.
“I never got an internship at business school or made any real concerted effort to land a real job,” he said. “I was always super competitive, an astute problem-solver and lazy when it came to traditional hard work.
“So, I feel like I was tailor-made for poker.”
Ely’s first poker experience came online on Paradise Poker in 2003, where he played small-stakes Sit and Gos. By the mid-2000s, he was hitting underground poker rooms in New York City while living in Brooklyn.
“I was a runaway train of a party animal in my 20s and poker seemed like the perfect vocation because of the freedom and lack of structure or authority figures,” he said.
After the legalization of online poker in New Jersey, Ely moved back home and got married in 2018. His wife is a public school music teacher in New York.
Playing in New Jersey may not offer huge player pools that those who played online in the 2000s were accustomed to, but Ely is hoping that will change as more states come on board.
Away from the table, Ely is a trivia fan and dreams of competing on Jeopardy. He’s also a big sports fan, especially MMA, NBA, NFL and Syracuse basketball.
2019 is proving more difficult so far
When 2019 began, Ely planned to earn $200,000. However, a slow start has made that a challenge.
“I definitely don’t view myself as one of the best players in New Jersey,” he said. “I ran really well last year and possibly put in more volume than anyone else.
However, this year has not had the same result for Ely.
“I feel like I’ve been playing mostly the same as I did last year. (However), I’m getting my ass handed to me on a nightly basis,” Ely said.
He’s trying to stay focused on playing his game. But, it’s not easy for anyone.
“One of the great challenges as a player is not being results oriented and objectively evaluating the level of your play regardless of your results. I’ve been playing this game for over 15 years and still don’t always do those things particularly well.”
Given his Player of the Year trophy, this last point doesn’t seem terribly believable.